Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss — Book Summary and Notes

At some point, your career, finances, reputation, love life, and even the fate of your kids all hinge on your ability to negotiate.

Negotiations serve two vital life functions—information gathering and influencing behavior.

At some point, your career, finances, reputation, love life, and even the fate of your kids all hinge on your ability to negotiate.

As you’ll learn, negotiation is nothing more than communication with results. Getting what you want out of life is about getting what you want from—and with—other people. After all, conflict between two parties is inevitable in all relationships. Therefore, it's crucial to know how to engage in that conflict to get what you want without inflicting damage.

Never Split The Difference

Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It By Chris Voss and Tahl Raz

Start With No

“No” is the start of the negotiation, not the end of it. We’ve been conditioned to fear the world “No.”, but it is a statement of perception more often than of fact. It seldom means, “I have considered all the facts and made a rational choice" Instead, “No” is often a decision, frequently temporary, to maintain the status quo. Change is scary and “No” provides a little protection from that scariness.

People will fight to the death to preserve their right to say “No”, so give them that right and the negotiating environment becomes more constructive and collaborative almost immediately.

When someone tells you “No”, they have multiple meanings

  • I am not yet ready to agree
  • You are making me feel uncomfortable
  • I do not understand
  • I don’t think I can afford it
  • I want something else
  • I need more information
  • I want to talk it over with someone else.

Why is Compromising Problematic?

We don’t compromise because it’s right; we compromise because it is easy and because it saves face. We compromise in order to say that at least we get half the pie. Distilled to its essence, we compromise to be safe. Most people in a negotiation are drive by fear or by the desire to avoid pain. Too few are driven by their actual goals. So don’t settle—here’s a simple rule—never split the difference.

What is Your Negotiation Style?

Most of us can throttle our non-dominant styles if the situation requires it. But there is one fundamental truth about a successful bargaining style: To be good, you have to learn to be yourself at the bargaining table. To be great, you must add your strengths, not replace them.

The Analyst

Analysts are methodical and diligent. They are not in a big rush. Instead, they believe that as long as they work towards the best result thoroughly and systematically, time is of little consequence—their motto: As much time as it takes to get it right.

Analysts prefer to work on their own and rarely deviate from their goals. They rarely show emotion and often use what is very close to the FM DJ Voice. However, Analysts often speak in a distant and cold way instead of soothing. This puts people off without them knowing and limits them from putting their counterparts at ease.

Analysts pride themselves on not missing any details in their extensive preparation. They will search for two weeks to get data they might have obtained at the negotiating table in fifteen minutes to keep from being surprised. Analysts hate surprises.

They are reserved problem solvers and information aggregators and are hypersensitive to reciprocity. They will give you a piece, but if they don't get a piece in return within a certain period, they lose trust and will disengage. This can often seem to come out of nowhere, but remember, since they like working on things alone, the fact that they are talking to you at all is, from their perspective, a concession. They will often view concessions by their counterpart as a new piece of information to be taken back and evaluated. Don't expect immediate counterproposals from them.

People like this are skeptical by nature. So asking too many questions is a bad idea because they won't want to answer until they understand all the implications. With them, it's vital to be prepared. Use precise data to drive your reasons:

  • Don't ad-lib.
  • Use data comparisons to disagree and focus on the facts.
  • Warn them of issues early.
  • Avoid surprises.

Silence to them is an opportunity to think. They're not mad at you, and they're not trying to give you a chance to talk more. If you feel they don't see things as you do, give them a chance to think first.

Apologies have little value to them since they see the negotiation and their relationship with you as a person primarily as separate things. They respond fairly well at the moment to labels. They are not quick to answer calibrated or close-ended questions when the answer is "Yes."

If you're an analyst, you should be worried about cutting yourself from an essential source of data, your counterparty. The single most significant thing you can do is smile when you speak. People will be more forthcoming with information to you as a result. Smiling can also become a habit that makes it easy to mask any moments you've been caught off guard.

The Accommodator

If they’re your counterpart, be sociable and friendly. Listen to them talk about their ideas and use calibrated questions focused specially on implementation to nudge them along and find ways to translate their talk into action. Due to their tendency to be the first to activate the reciprocity cycle, they may have agreed to give you something they can’t actually deliver.

The Assertive

It’s best to focus on what they have to say, because once they are convinced you understand them, then and only then will they listen from your point of view.

Key Terms

Calibrated Questions: Queries the other side can respond to but have no fixed answers. It buys you time. It gives your counterpart the illusion of control—they are the ones with the answers and power, after all—and it does all that without giving them any idea of how constrained by it.

  • "How am I supposed to do that?"
  • "What are we trying to accomplish here?"
  • "What is it that brought us into this situation?"

Mirroring: Repeat the last three words of what someone has just said. Every time you mirror someone, they will reword what they've said. They will never say it the same way they did the first time.

Late-night FM DJ Voice: Inflect downward

Tactical Empathy: Emotional intelligence on steroids. It is understanding the feelings and mindset of another at the moment and hearing what is behind those feelings.

Labeling: Validate someone's emotion by acknowledging it. Give someone's emotion a name and show you identify with that person's feelings. It gets you close to someone without asking about eternal factors you know nothing about.

  • It seems like…
  • It sounds like…
  • It looks like…
  • "Look, I'm an asshole."

The word "I" gets people's guard up. When you say "I", it tells you're more interested in yourself than the other person, and it makes you take personal responsibility for the words that follow.

Accusation Audit: Listing every terrible thing your counterpart could say about you

Deadlines: A deal now is more important than getting a good deal. Deadlines are often arbitrary, almost always flexible, and hardly ever trigger the consequences we think they will. Ask yourself: what about a deadline that causes pressure and anxiety? The consequences and the perception of loss should no resolution be achieved by a specific time frame.

“We just want what’s fair”

  • Uses: “I want you to feel like you are being treated fairly at all times. So please stop me at any time if you feel I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.”
  • Counter-attack: “Fair?” It seems like you’re ready to provide the evidence that supports it

Verbal Flexing: We wanted them to see things our way and they wanted to see it their way.

Real-Life Examples of Negotiation

Asking Students to Volunteer in Class

“In case you’re worried about volunteering to role play with me in front of the class, I want to tell you in advance… it’s going to be horrible. And those of you who volunteer will probably get more out of this than anyone else.”

Rescheduling a Flight

“Hi, Wendy. I’m Ryan. It seems like they were pretty upset.”
“Yeah, They missed their connection. We’ve had a fair amount of delays because of the weather.”
“The weather?”

“It seems like it’s been a hectic day.”
“There’ve been a lot of ‘irate consumers,’ you know? I get it, even though I don’t like to be yelled at. Many people are trying to get to Austin for the big game.”
“The big game?”
“UT is playing Ole Miss football, and every flight into Austin has been booked solid.”
“Booked solid?”
“Yeah, all through the weekend. Though who knows how many people will make the flights. The weather’s probably going to reroute a lot of people through a lot of different places.”

“Well, it seems like you’ve been handling the rough day pretty well. I was also affected by the weather delays and missed my connecting flight. It seems like this flight is likely booked solid, but with what you said, maybe someone affected by the weather might miss this connection: Is there any possibility a seat will be open?”


"Have you given up on this project?"

Car Dealerships

Car dealers are prone to give you the best price near the end of the month when their transactions are assessed. And corporate salespeople working on a quarterly basis are most vulnerable at the end of the quarter.

Negotiating Salaries

  • Be pleasantly persistent on non-salary terms
  • Sell yourself, and your success, as a way they can validate their intelligence and broadcast it to the rest of the company.
  • Ask, “What does it take to be successful here?”
  • “I’m asking you, not the board, for the promotion; all I need is for you to agree with it.”

The Ackerman Model

  • Set your target price (your goal)
  • Set your first offer at 65% of your target price
  • Calculate three raises of decreasing increments (85%, 95%, 100%)
  • Use lots of empathy and different ways of saying “No” to get the other side to counter before you increase your offer
  • When calculating the final amount, use precise, non-round numbers
  • Throw in a non-monetary item on your final item to show you’re at your limit.

Negotiating a Rent Cut

  • “Even though your building is better in terms of service and location, how am I supposed to pay $200 extra?”
  • “Would $1,730 a month for a year lease sound fair to you?
  • “Please help me understand: how do you price lease renewals?”
  • “How about $1,790 for 12 months?”

Any response that is not an outright rejection means you have the edge.

  • "That is generous of you, but how am I supposed to accept it when I can move a few blocks away and stay for $1,800?”
  • “It seems like you would rather run the risk of keeping the place unrented.”
  • “Let me tell you what, I initially went up from $1,730 to $1,790. I will bring it up to $1,810. And I think this works well for both of us.”

Proceeds to do some fake calculations on paper.

  • “I did some numbers, and the maximum I can afford is $1829.”

Agent: “Wow. $1829, you seem very precise. You must be an accountant.”

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1: The New Rules

  • Negotiation serves two distinct functions - information gathering and behaviour influencing.
  • No matter how we dress up our negotiations in mathematical theories, we are always an animal, always acting and reacting first and foremost from our deeply held but mostly invisible and inchoate fears, needs, perceptions, and desires.
  • Listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.

Chapter 2: Be A Mirror

  • A good negotiator prepares, going in, to be ready for possible surprises; a great negotiator aims to use her skills to reveal the surprises she is certain to find
  • Don’t commit to assumptions; instead, view them as hypothesis and use the negotiation to test them rigorously.
  • People who view negotiation as battle of arguments become overwhelmed by the voices in their head. Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery. The goal is to uncover as much information as possible.
  • To quiet the voices in your head, make your sole and all encompassing focus the other person and what they have to say
  • Slow it. Down. Going too fast is one of the mistakes all negotiators are prone to making. If we’re too much in a hurry, people can feel as if they’re not being heard. You risk undermining the rapport and trust you’ve built
  • Put a smile on your face. When people are in a positive frame of mind, they think more quickly, and are more likely to collaborate and problem-solved (instead of fight and resist). Positivity creates mental agility in both you and your counterpart
  • Use the late-night FM DJ voice to selectively make a point. Inflect your voice downward, keeping it calm and slow. When done properly, you create an aura of authority and trustworthiness without triggering defensives.
  • Mirrors work magic. Repeat the last three words of what someone has just said. We fear what’s different and are drawn to what’s similar. Mirroring is the art of insinuating similarity, which facilitates bonding.
  • Use mirrors to encourage the other side to empathize and bong with you, keep people talking, buy your side time to regroup, and encourage your counterparts to reveal their strategy.

Chapter 3: Don’t Feel Their Pain, Label It

  • Human connection is the first goal.
  • Imagine yourself in your counterpart's situation. Empathy doesn’t mean you have to agree with your counterpart, rather by acknowledging the other person's situation you convey that you’re listening. Once they know you’re listening, they might tell you something that you can use.
  • The reasons why a counterpart will not make an agreement with you are often more powerful than why they will make a deal, so focus on clearing the barriers to agreement first. Denying barriers give them credence; get them out in the open.
  • Pause. After you label a barrier or mirror a statement, let it sink in. The other party will fill the silence.
  • Label your counterpart’s fears to diffuse their power. Labelling is a way of validating someone’s emotions by acknowledging it. Use phrases: “It seems like…”, “It sounds like…”, “It looks like…”. When you phrase a label as a neutral statement your counterpart is more responsive.
  • Perform an accusation audit. List the worst things that the other party could say about you before they say them. Performing this in advance prepares you for the negative dynamics before they take root. Speaking them out loud will encourage the other person that the opposite is true.
  • Remember that you’re dealing with someone that wants to be appreciated and understood at their core. Use labels to reinforce and encourage positive perceptions and dynamics.

Chapter 4: Beware “Yes” — Master “No”

  • “No” is that start of the negotiation, not the end of it. We’ve been conditioned to fear the word “No”.
  • There are three types of “yes”:
  • Counterfeit: this “yes” is one in which your counterpart plans of saying “no” but feels “yes” is an easier escape or just wants to keep the conversation going to get more information to achieve a type of edge.
  • Confirmation: is generally an innocent, reflexive response to a black-or-white question; it’s a simple affirmation with no commitment.
  • Commitment: This “yes” is the real deal: it’s a true agreement that leads to action. A commitment “yes” ends with a signature.
  • Don’t aim for “yes” too early in the negotiation. Asking someone too early gets their guard up and paints you as an untrustworthy salesperson.
  • Saying “no” makes the speaker feel safe. By saying what they don’t want, your counterpart defines their space and gains confidence and comfort to listen to you.
  • Negotiate in their world. Persuasion is about convincing your counterpart that the solution that you want is their idea. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals. It’s not about you.
  • If a potential buyer is ignoring you, contact them with a clear and concise “No” - oriented question that you are ready to walk away. For example, “Have you given up on this project?”

Chapter 5: Trigger the Two Words

  • Driving towards “that’s right” is a winning strategy in all negotiations. But hearing “you’re right” is a disaster.
  • Create unconditional positive regard. Humans have an innate urge towards socially constructive behaviour. The more a person feels positively affirmed, the more likely that urge for constructive behavior will take hold.
  • Use a summary to trigger a “that’s right”. A good summary is the combination of rearticulating the meaning of what is said plus the acknowledgement of the emotions underlying that meaning (paraphrasing + labelling = summary). Identify, rearticulate, and emotionally affirm.

Chapter 6: Bend Their Reality

  • There’s always leverage. Negotiation is never a linear formula: add X to Y to get Z. We have irrational blind spots, hidden needs, and underdeveloped notions.
  • We don’t compromise because it’s right; we compromise because it is easy and it saves face. Don't settle - never split the difference.
  • When negotiators tell their counterparts about their deadlines, they get better deals. Deadlines are never ironclad. Engaging in the process and having a feel for how long that will take is more important.
  • To get real leverage: you have to persuade them that they have something to lose if the deal falls through:
  • Anchor their emotions: By anchoring their emotions in preparation for a loss (accusation audit) you inflame the other side’s loss aversion so they’ll jump at the chance to avoid it.
  • Let the other side go first… most of the time: Let the other side anchor monetary negotiations. You may come across someone who goes in with an extreme anchor to bend your reality. Remember that your reputation precedes you.
  • Establish A Range: Bolstering a range has been found to have a significantly higher chance of offers.
  • Pivot to non monetary terms: Don’t get hung up on “how much?”, one of the easiest ways to bed your counterpart's reality is to pivot to non-monetary terms. Offer something that has non-monetary value.
  • When you talk numbers, use odd ones: numbers that end with 0 feel like placeholders, however anything ending with an exact figure (£37,867) feels like a figure that has come out of an exact calculation.
  • Surprise with a gift: After receiving a rejection after an extreme anchor offer an wholly unrelated gift. People feel obliged to repay debts of kindness.

Chapter 7: Create An Illusion of Control

  • In negotiation get your counterpart to do the work for you so that they suggest the solution themselves. Giving them the illusion of control, while you were the one defining the conversation.
  • Use calibrated questions: calibrated questions have the power to educate your counterpart on what the problem is rather than causing conflict by telling them what the problem is.
  • Don’t use: can, is, are, do, or does .
  • Avoid: questions that can be answered with Yes or tiny pieces of information.
  • †Start every question with what, how, and (and sometimes but rarely) why.
  • Only use why when the defensiveness it creates is in your favor: Why would you ever change from the way you’ve always done things and try my approach?
  • Instead of telling someone You can’t leave the negotiation table, change it to What do you hope to achieve by going?

Chapter 8: Guarantee Execution

  • “Yes” is nothing without “how”.
  • Ask calibrated “how”… questions. These questions help guarantee execution. .
  • Aim for a ‘that’s right’ response .
  • Don’t settle for I’ll try or you’re right.
  • The 7-38-55 Percent Rule: 7 percent of a message is based on the words while 38 percent comes from the tone of voice and 55 percent from the speaker's body language.
  • The Rule of Three: The Rule of Three is simply getting your counterpart to agree to the same thing three times in the same conversation. It’s tripling the strength of whatever dynamic you’re trying to drill into at the moment.
  • Spotting Liars: Liars will:
  • Use more words than truth tellers.
  • Talk about him, her, it, one, they and their.
  • Rarely use “I” as this creates distance from the lie.
  • Speak in more complex sentences (to cover up the lie) .
  • Use your own name. Using your own name makes you more personable.
  • The art of closing a deal is staying focused to the very end. There are crucial points at the finale when you must draw on your mental discipline. Do not let your mind wander. Remain focused.

Chapter 9: Bargain Hard

  • To be good, you have to learn to be yourself at the bargaining table. To be great you have to add to your strengths, not replace them.
  • Calculate increments for pricing: Buyer - 65%, 85%, 95%, 100%; Seller - 135%, 115%, 105%, 100%
  • Say no with a calibrated question. “How am I supposed to do that”.
  • Deflect with a calibrated question. “What are we trying to accomplish here?”
  • Pivot to non-monetary items. “What else would you be able to offer to make a good price?”
  • When calculating the final number, use non-round numbers as it gives more credibility and weight.
  • On the final number add a non-monetary item to show you’re at the final limit.

Chapter 10: Find the Black Swan

  • Black Swans are events or pieces of knowledge that sit outside our regular expectations and therefore cannot be predicted.
  • There are at least 3 black swans in each negotiation.
  • There are three types of leverage:
  • Positive leverage: This is your ability to withhold things that your counterpart wants.
  • Negative leverage: The ability to make your counterpart suffer. This gets people's attention due to loss aversion. Potential losses loom larger than potential gains.
  • Normative leverage: Using the other parties norms and standards to advance your position. If you show inconsistencies in their values and actions you have normative leverage.
  • The Similarity Principle: people trust those in their group. Observe attitudes, ideas and even forms of dress.
  • Just because someone is acting crazy doesn't mean they are. It is usually due to these three factors:
  • They’re ill-informed. They have incomplete information.
  • They’re constrained. They may not have the power to close the deal.
  • They have hidden interests. These are justifying their behaviour.
  • Get facetime with your counterpart. Ten minutes of facetime reveals more than days of research. Pay special attention to their verbal and non-verbal communication.

Never Split The Difference: In A Nutshell

Every case is new. We must let what we know guide us but not blind us to what we do not know; we must remain flexible and adaptable to any situation; we must always retain a beginner’s mind; and we must never overvalue our experience or undervalue the informational and emotional realities served up moment by moment in whatever situation we face.